In this Issue
The Applied Approach is published once a year by the School of Applied Sciences and The University of Mississippi Alumni Association. Production services are provided by the offices of Media and Public Relations and University Publications. For more information, contact: Sheila Dossett, Alumni Association, (662) 915-7375, firstname.lastname@example.org.
the "Silent Thief"
Convincing women to begin fighting osteoporosis when they’re young is professor’s passion
| Osteoporosis Prevention and Awareness Month is not until
May, but Allison Ford is making it her job year-round to spread advice
about preventing and treating the disease.
Ford said osteoporosis is often called the “silent thief” because it robs bones of calcium and many victims aren’t aware of it until it’s too late for effective treatment.
That’s why Ford, assistant professor of health promotion at UM, is dedicated to educating young women about the disease.
“Bone density peaks around age 35, so it’s important for young women to get a bone density scan in their 20s,” said Ford, founder of the Mississippi Osteoporosis Prevention Program. “If bone density is low before that age, a person can take measures to build their density up.”
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis is a disease “characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue, leading to bone fragility and an increased susceptibility to fractures, especially of the hip, spine and wrist.”
NOF research shows that in the United States, 8 million women and 2 million men are estimated to already have the disease and 34 million more are estimated to have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk.
Because of these high estimates, Ford said she encourages both young women and men to get a bone-density scan and learn more about the disease.
“My research has shown that college-age men and women are very uneducated about osteoporosis. Getting them to have a bone density scan is the first step toward education,” said Ford. “Younger women benefit from the scans by having a baseline bone density measurement to detect future risk.”
While women are four times more likely to develop the disease, men also suffer from osteoporosis.
Andrew Hatchett, a technician in DEXA-scan technology (or dual energy X-ray absorptiometer) who has worked with Ford for 18 months, said that many young men have lower bone density than they expect.
“Although Dr. Ford’s research has proven that a greater number of younger women have low bone density, in my experience doing scans, I’ve noticed that many young men have the same problem,” said Hatchett, doctoral candidate in exercise science from Surfside Beach, S.C.
Hatchett said the adage that thinner is healthier is not always true when dealing with osteoporosis.
“Traditionally women and men with smaller frames have a high risk of osteoporosis,” he said.
In addition to small bone structure, osteoporosis risk factors listed by NOF are related to age, gender, family history, personal history of bone fractures as an adult, race and lifestyle. For more specific information on risk factors, visit www.nof.org.
“It is very important for people to understand that osteoporosis is not an old women’s disease—it is a debilitating disease that affects both men and women,” Ford said. “Through my research and outreach programs, I met a 26-year-old woman with the bones of an 80-year-old.”
However, Ford said that, if detected early, osteoporosis can be prevented and treated.
“First and foremost, get a bone-density scan. These scans are painless, take only a few minutes and are similar to having an X-ray,” Ford said. “Then, if you are less than age 35, work with your health practitioner to take preventive action.”
Although the ability to build bones goes away at about age 35, Ford said that there are ways to maintain what is already there. Preventive and treatment measures include increasing physical activity, employing weight training, decreasing alcohol consumption, avoiding smoking, changing birth control medication, using drug therapy, and increasing calcium and vitamin D.
After her grandmother died following complications from a hip fracture, Ford said she made it her mission to increase awareness of osteoporosis. At UM, Ford has provided bone density scans and distributed awareness material to more than 170 employees. In fall 2005, she secured a grant through Project Hope to host a free Osteoporosis Prevention Seminar for the Oxford community. Plans call for another communitywide education program to be scheduled this year.
“Osteoporosis is a debilitating disease resulting in premature disability and death. It is more common among women than heart attacks and breast cancer,” Ford said. “But, if detected early, osteoporosis can often be prevented and treated.
“It’s just very important for the public to know more about this disease,” she said.
For more information, contact M. Allison Ford at 662-915-6770 or email@example.com.
Early diagnosis of osteoporosis is a passion for Dr. Allison Ford (standing), who performs a bone density scan on a student at the Turner Center with the help of Andrew Hatchett (right), an X-ray scan technician.